The Promise of New Life

Pasture 2020My15 DSC01759BLEvery spring, it seems, I photograph some of the same things as I walk around our home in rural Idaho, strolling down the lane to the pastures below this small farm town. My redundant photos are a celebration of new life, a way of praising God for the beautiful gifts He keeps on giving.

Even in times of pandemic, even in times of war or disaster, even in all the times of our personal trials, each day He gives us fresh beauty and new opportunities.

I even find some delight in the bountiful crop of bright yellow flowers dotting our lawn. (Just who was it that decided dandelions are weeds?)

New green 2020My15 DSC01783 BLThe old tree outside our back door here keeps teaching me lessons. I have written about it before. In the fall, it looks like it might be done for, like this might be its last gasp. And yet each spring the tree puts forth new blossoms and new leaves.

If the old tree can keep going, I can to, until the Lord says it’s enough.

Life is a brand new gift every morning when I get out of bed.

I am reminded that many people have not been able to enjoy that gift as long as I have.

My thoughts have been troubled these past few days by reports of tragedies: two beautiful little girls swept away from their parents in a flash flood and drowned; two young women, just starting in life, drowned during an outing at a lake; a boy accidentally shot by a younger sibling; a troubled 15-year-old who decided that the gift of life was not worth keeping. My heart aches for the families in mourning. I pray that the Lord has taken those young people to Himself. I pray that His mercy and grace may cover them and they will be able to enjoy new life with Him.

Spring is a token from God of something better, a reminder of His promise that someday, through the grace of His Son Jesus Christ, we will enjoy new life with Him if we live for it now.

I pray that even now, when statistically I have lived the greater part of my mortal life, I can endure in living for that new life with Him.

 

Cramming for Finals

Peace in the scriptures.

Finding peace in troubled, worrisome times.

We are blessed, my wife and I, to have a safe haven at home right now—no illness, so far, and still able to buy food as needed. We know that so many other people are suffering, and there is heartache in knowing there is nothing we can do to help.

We are cut off temporarily from the offices where we have been doing volunteer work. Under other circumstances, we would go out and find ways to help someone else, but that could be dangerous to others and to us as well. Stuck at home like everyone else, we are trying to make the best of a bad situation.

Sitting around doing nothing would be impossible—something neither of us can tolerate. It would be mind-numbingly boring—like, looking-for-faces-in-the-patterns-on-the-floor-tile boring.

There’s no shortage of online advice about what to do—“The Eight New Shows You Have to Watch Right Now,” “The Best Movies to Stream,”  “The Best Books for When You Can’t Go Out,” etc. But in practicality some of those things get old quickly.

TV? After news programs and PBS shows, what? (By the way, why do the British shows always seem better written?)

Streaming movies? “Action” movies mean high body count and plots that range from unlikely to impossible. “Romance”? Again, unlikely plots, and too many cases of love = sex. “Edgy” independent movies? Well, they’re edgy, and who wants any kind of downer right now?

Reading? Ah, yes. There are whole libraries of good stuff online, and this has been an excellent chance to turn to some gift books I have received in the past, because now I actually have time for them. There are also some of my favorite books that warrant another look.

Books can be so much more engaging. In fiction, the theater of the mind has always been more powerful for me than movies. In philosophy, social science, and religion there is time to ponder and absorb concepts that can enrich or change my life.

2 Nephi 25:23-27

“. . . we rejoice in Christ . . .”

I’ve been spending a lot of time with the scriptures. In the Bible and the Book of Mormon— of both testifying of the crucial, eternally essential role Jesus Christ plays in our lives—I find doctrines and concepts to savor at length. In other modern scriptures and the words of modern prophets, I find elaboration and explanation that expand the intellect and feed the soul.

Certainly, I haven’t reached a level of saintliness where I spend all day pondering verses of scripture. But I’m spending a lot more time than I used to. It has something to do with what Jesus said about laying up treasures in heaven. (See Matthew 6:19-20 in the New Testament or 3 Nephi 13:19-20 in the Book of Mormon.) This seems like a good time to be looking for wisdom, and treasures of spiritual knowledge that become embedded in the eternal soul. (See James 1:5 and Luke 1:16-17 in the New Testament, or 3 Nephi chapter 17 verse 3, and Doctrine and Covenants section 109, verse 7.) In all of these verses, the Lord calls on us to learn—to store up treasures that cannot be taken from our eternal spirits by death of the mortal body.

Years ago, I read an anecdote about a child who asked, “Grandma, why do you spend so much time reading the Bible?” Grandma replied: “I’m cramming for finals.”

The time we’ve been given at home right now seems like a good opportunity to do some cramming for finals.

 

 

 

For Times of Crisis: A Silo Full of Faith

Granary Paris 2020Fe16 DSC00049

The silo John and Ruth left full of wheat.

The silo holds almost four tons of wheat. The grain was put there more than 30 years ago by two loving people who hoped to provide food for their children’s families in case they Granary Paris 2019Oc DSC01556might face scarcity or famine someday.

Now, the wheat is probably not usable for food anymore—but what those two people left behind may be much more valuable than food.

John and Ruth were farm people. They knew years when the crops didn’t grow well or didn’t sell for enough money. They had lived through the Depression of the 1930s. They never spent money they did not have or wasted anything that might be put to good use sometime. Up in the old barn there are buckets of rusty nails and bolts that John meant to straighten out, clean up, and reuse one day.

John and Ruth were my in-laws. I learned to admire them for what they had become in life and what they were willing to sacrifice to assure a decent life for others—especially their children. Inside that silo full of grain, taped to the inner door, they left a note Granary note 2019Oc DSC01547 Sspecifying what they wanted done with the wheat. “It is here to be preserved for a time of need,” John wrote. “We do not expect to live to see the day when all of this will be used for human food, but say to our family you may take from it as needed for your use. . . . We want you to respect our wish that none of it is to be sold for monetary gain but may be traded for other food items if needed. We are dedicating this wheat to help sustain the lives of those who may need it . . . .”

The grain was accumulated from their crops over 10 years, the last bags being added in 1987. The company that bagged the wheat told them it would last “for a lifetime.”

Maybe no one anticipated that the galvanized steel granary could begin to rust out near the bottom. Rodents and deer, getting at a few of the bags through small holes at the base of the silo, have nibbled at the wheat. A nutritional expert tells us the grain is probably not good for human food anymore but might be used to feed animals.

John and Ruth had faith that they were helping provide for their descendants in the way a loving Father in Heaven wanted them to do. They wrote of scriptural and prophetic counsel to store food for a future time of need. But perhaps they did not realize what kind of food they were really leaving behind: nourishment for the spirit, in a store of faith that is strongly felt in their note. It’s impossible to read their words without being deeply moved, and without asking ourselves what we might be leaving behind for our own descendants.

Ruth was an example of service to others in their small farming community.

John became one of my models of integrity in life, since I had grown up without a father.

The two of them may not have left their family worldly wealth, but I believe no parents could have done more for their children in those circumstances. Their examples have helped mold the lives of their children and their children’s children.

Now we are living in times of crisis when there is an urgent, pressing need for faith. I have to ask myself: Have I given my children and their children an example of faith that will help to carry them through perilous times to come? Surely those times are coming. How can I help them to store up the faith they will yet need?

If I could choose one thing to leave them, it would be faith to rely on prophets and the spiritual nourishment found in the scriptures and revelations given for our day.

[NOTE: The name of this blog has been changed from Searlebration. The blog began as a way of reaching our extended family, but it has grown beyond that, and the new name better reflects the subject matter. ]

 

How Mad Are You–‘Hell Fire’ Mad?

 

Protesters 3Ag17_01717BRecently, I had a call from someone I love and respect, someone I have not talked to in two or three years. I wondered if we would be able to talk congenially. I have recently responded to some of that person’s strongly worded posts on social media with an opposing political viewpoint.

But we had a fine conversation, expressed our love for each other, and said we really should do this more often. I was grateful it went that way.

These are times of tension, turmoil, and heated commentary about what is happening in our nation’s government and what elected leaders are doing. I have my own strong feelings about developments in Washington that could do long-term damage to the United States.

But there is another national problem that concerns me even more, and so I am doing something I have tried to avoid in this blog. I am repeating a theme I touched on a short time ago: the corrosive nature of hate and anger.

Some who are heavily committed to supporting one party or another seem unable to treat people who disagree with them as human beings—as other children of God. They dehumanize people they see as opponents, and this makes it easy to hate.

Most often this dehumanization begins with labeling: “fuzzy minded liberal,” “hide-bound conservative,” “left-wing do-gooder” “right-wing bigot,” “pious hypocrite,” or “[insert religious affiliation] terrorist.” That individual who disagrees with us may be a loving parent, may do a lot of good in the community, may be a very incisive thinker. But if we give them a pejorative label, it’s easier to tell ourselves they deserve some cruel fate—public humiliation, tragedy, or even death.

These days, it might be good for many of us to review “The War prayer,” in which Mark Twain reminds Christians that wishing evil on our enemies is not a Christlike attitude.

The Master Himself warned us against contention in which we seek to condemn those who disagree with us: “. . . I say unto you that whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: . . . but whosoever shall say, Thou Fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.” (Matthew 5:22)

Are you in danger of hell fire?

Here are some questions that might help each of us determine whether our political thoughts could be putting us in moral danger. (And I write this knowing that I need to face need these as much as anyone else.)

Do you find yourself wishing that certain politicians of the opposing party could be publicly humiliated, punished, or socially annihilated?

Of course, you would never do anything to them, but would you be secretly pleased if something happened to shut them up?

Do you find opportunities to post cutting or critical things about others on social media? If you actually met them in person—if you sat down across a table from them to share bread—would you say those same things to that person’s face?

The man with the megaphone pictured here was a protester who showed up regularly at a large Church-sponsored religious pageant to protest. We called him “the Screamer.” He stood across the street and screamed vile and vulgar insults at church members attending the event. Much of what he said was lies, all of it intended to provoke contention. He wanted nothing more than to have someone confront or perhaps attack him, because then he could claim to be the wounded party. “See? See what they’re doing?”

In political terms, are you playing the Screamer?

It’s easy to tell yourself, “Oh, I don’t really hate them. I just hate the things they do and say.” If that’s true, then how would you explain those feelings of hoping something bad might happen to keep them quiet?

Would Jesus Christ, or the great law-giver Moses, or Mohammed—or whoever you respect as your ruling moral authority—speak of people in the same way you think of them?

I believe that modern science bears out the danger of carrying around feelings of anger and contention inside us all the time. Maybe that is one reason Jesus Christ warned us about being angry at our fellow beings. If we spend too much of our lives being angry, we will create a little bit of hell for ourselves here on earth, and we will waste time we could have used to prepare for heaven.

 

It’s Not Just Cloth. It’s an Ideal.

Topaz20190920_0026The flag pictured here flies over the site of Topaz, the detention camp where thousands of Japanese-Americans were held during World War II for no reason except their ethnicity. The fact that this camp existed is a reminder that our republic is not perfect. Topaz is one of the shameful mistakes in United States history.

Topaz name on fence

Artistry in rusty barbed wire gives a name to the barren site behind the fence.

And yet it is also a reminder that we can and should strive to do better. We cannot erase mistakes, even though we might try. After the war, almost everything was removed at this site except concrete foundations—and yet it is still here, in the memories and in the lives of families who were affected. We can never fully repay victims of injustices in our history for all that they suffered. We must resolve with them that this kind of suffering will not happen again.

Our national experiment in self-government is still young. It was not founded on rule by a familial dynasty, or some oligarchy. It was founded on rule by us—“We, the people”—and so it can still grow as we do. We need to see our country not as a nation that is mature, settled, or fading, but as a country that is still young and vital. We will still have vigorous, sometimes heated, debates about which way to go. In these debates, we must look for the light instead of heat. We are more likely to find that light in the middle of the spectrum rather than in passion or coldness at the extremes.

We need to remember that no single political party holds the key to all wisdom, and that Americans who disagree with us are not the enemy. Our enemies are those who want the American experiment to fail, who tell us we have no right to exist, who try to undermine our freedoms because freedom is a threat to their domination of people in their own countries.

Some years ago, I was strolling up a street in Rome when I saw my flag—the Stars and Stripes—rising above the trees. After a couple of weeks out of the country, I was thrilled to see it. I raised my camera and took a picture. Within seconds, an Italian policeman was at my side asking why I was taking pictures. I explained as best I could. Then, as he let me move on, I saw that the flag was flying over the U. S. embassy. In front of the building, more armed police officers were stationed behind a sandbag barrier, prepared to respond in case of attack. And I remembered that throughout the world, there are people who want to attack what our flag stands for.

It seems commonplace these days to protest injustice in our country by dishonoring its flag. But the flag still represents an ideal for me, one I learned to accept as a child: “. . . one nation, under God, indivisible.” I have watched the changes in world affairs for three-quarters of a century now. I have lived in other countries and had the privilege of traveling on six continents. And still it seems to me that the country represented by that red, white, and blue flag offers the world’s best hope for equality and justice. It’s not perfect. It may never be perfect. But it holds hope for moving in that direction.

So instead of taking a knee, how about extending a hand? I’ll give you mine. Maybe we can work together to solve some of the problems you see. Our work might be hard. We might have to learn a lot more about each other. We each might have to accept that some of our own views need to be altered.

27 Plaza4 25Au06But I’m not giving up on that “one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.” If we truly commit to being one nation and try to treat each other as a Heavenly Father would want His children to treat each other, we can do it.

Not seeing that ideal yet? Hang in there. Our experiment is still young.

 

 

Do You Feel Qualified to Cast a Stone?

They came at Jesus, that devious group of scribes and Pharisees, with a challenge: Moses taught that we should stone this woman for adultery. What do you say? (John 8:3-11.)

Jealous of his influence among the people, and fearing the loss of their power to govern, they tried to use the law of Moses in their scriptures to entrap Him. They hoped Jesus would say something that would let them accuse Him of sin against their law.

Hand holding large stone

Are we constantly carrying stones with us, ready to attack those who do not think as we do?

But they reckoned without His wisdom and inspiration. Instead of giving them a “yea” or “nay” decision, Jesus offered them a challenge: Were they completely free of sin? He forced them to examine themselves. “He that is without sin . . . let him first cast a stone.”

There is real spiritual and ethical danger in mixing scripture with politics. Holy scripture is a two-edged sword; it cuts both ways. Those who use it to try to condemn their political opponents usually end up wounding themselves.

Are you as weary and dismayed as I am at the mixing of scripture and theology into our current political contention?

How do people who claim to believe in principles of righteousness justify citing the holy scriptures to condemn opponents to hell?

Lately I have seen the scriptures used liberally to condemn those who oppose President Trump. I have seen people who claim to be religious post vulgar and obscene things about his opponents. Some of them attacked Nancy Pelosi for mentioning her faith and prayers for the president, calling it hypocrisy.

Didn’t the Master warn us about judging? (Matthew 7:1-5, Luke 6:35-37.) He cautioned us about the hypocrisy in judging the faults of others when we are ignoring our own. (Matthew 7:5.) Didn’t the God of the Old Testament teach us that only He is capable of judging by looking on the heart of people? (1 Samuel 16:7.) How dare anyone else judge the sincerity of Mrs. Pelosi’s prayers?

I have prayed for every president in my lifetime, but I have prayed for this one more because we live in ever more perilous times, and God is the only One I trust to warn us unerringly about what is ahead. Moreover, some of the president’s public behaviors which everyone acknowledges—his divisiveness, his nasty and very personal attacks on people he sees as foes—make it harder for him to govern and unite the country. I have prayed that he will try to find ways to unite us instead of playing to the voters who are his power base and pitting them against other Americans.

I am not suggesting that there is flawed judgment only on one side. Surveys and studies I have seen suggest that those who are politically liberal are less likely to identify themselves with a particular religious organization. (Note carefully that this does not say they are less moral or less charitable than other people.) It is my observation that when people who are politically liberal judge others, it is most often justified in terms of social order or obligation. Thus some of them may conclude that people of faith are simply uneducated or backward, and we must give up our faith-based beliefs on issues of abortion or marriage or gender. If we insist that we are trying to live by the word of God as we understand it, we are just being intransigent, and they will gladly use the courts and law to impose their will on us.

There is error on both sides here. People at both ends or the political spectrum seem unwilling to let others exercise freedom of thought if this leads to decisions that do not agree with theirs. Some seem to walk daily with stones in hand ready to attack those who dare to act in ways they do not approve. This seems to depend more on the individual’s personality than on choice of religious allegiance. We see this anger and divisiveness in politicians of every faith, and in their most rabid followers.

As I write this, it is Christmas Eve. I cannot reconcile in my mind sending out cards that say “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men” (Luke 3:14), and afterward using the words of the Son of God as moral and intellectual cudgels to beat His children who do not think and behave as we wish.

My prayer is for people who are healers, who will put down their stones and find ways to work with others even when we do not accept all their beliefs.

 

The Wisdom of the Sunflower

We were driving through the desert, passing by the dry bed of an alkaline lake in the Great Basin. Fifty feet from the roadway, there was a forbidding desert landscape full of sagebrush and cactus. And yet, at the edge of the pavement there were tall, palm-of-the-hand-sized sunflowers.

Sunflower Sep19 DSC01503
I love sunflowers. I never cease to admire the way they can thrive in harsh environments. Their welcome splash of bright color stands out against the muted browns and greens surrounding them, and as a foreground for hazy blue mountains in the distance.
No matter how forbidding the environment in which they grow, they are always seeking the light.
Do you know people like that? I do. Some grew up in very harsh, unloving, even dangerous environments, and yet they thrived. The reason? They sought out the light. They have made productive lives for themselves and made important, lasting contributions in other lives as well.
Does that sound like a Pollyanna outlook? Once upon a time I might have said so, but living with an unfailing optimist for 50 years has changed my thinking. I have learned that always expecting things to turn out darkly does not accomplish anything and may become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead of expecting the worst, why not work toward the best possible outcome?

A very wise man I respect as a prophet of God used to repeat this advice from his father: “Cynics do not contribute, skeptics do not create, doubters do not achieve.” (Gordon B. Hinckley, former president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.)
I may be a natural-born skeptic and something of a pessimist, but experience has taught me this: the solutions to my problems in life are found not in lamenting the darkness, but in seeking out the light.

Salt Flats A7R 20190413_0313 P

We love the dawning light.

Our eternal spirits crave

the constant illumination

that comes from Heavenly Father.

No one can take His light from us.

Sometimes we give it up

for lesser, faded things,

until we find ourselves

locked in lives of darkness. 

But when we choose the light

we can see with sharpening view

the everlasting glory

He wants to share with us.